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DeKalb County proposing to raise residential stormwater utility fee

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DeKalb County proposing to raise residential stormwater utility fee

DeKalb County Government Manuel J. Maloof Center in downtown Decatur. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners is considering raising the stormwater utility fee for residents for 2023-2025. The board will consider voting on the increase during its meeting on Tuesday, May 9, at 9 a.m. at the Maloof Auditorium, 1300 Commerce Drive in Decatur.

The meeting is also streamed via DCTV. To watch the livestream, click here.

To see the agenda, click here.

The residential stormwater utility fee is currently $4 per residential unit. If the proposed increase is approved, the fee will increase to $8 per month in 2023, $9 per month in 2024 and $10 per month in 2025 and for subsequent years.

The county’s public works and infrastructure committee recommended approval of the agenda item with a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Ted Terry voted no. Terry and Commissioners Lorraine Cochran-Johnson and Robert Patrick are on the PWI committee.

“I asked for a two-week deferral so that the public would have an opportunity to be better informed,” Terry wrote in a May 4 email to other commissioners. “Regardless of how many discussions were had at PWI on this issue, no one from the public were in attendance at these meetings, and no other commissioners were at those meetings. The public now knows about this agenda item, simply because it was put on the agenda Tuesday, by the CEO.

“I’m concerned that the CEO is asking for a doubling of the stormwater rates with only seven days’ notice. That is not transparency. If this is how the CEO operates, I question how the SPLOST will go. It’s disappointing this lack of inclusive leadership and accountability has become the norm in DeKalb.”

Terry said the increases could lead to sticker shock for some customers.

“Some of our largest payees of these fees are schools and churches,” Terry wrote. “And those institutions know nothing about this… but they will find out pretty quickly once they get a surprise in their tax bill mailing later this summer, amounting to thousands of dollars in unplanned for fees that will now have to be addressed mid-way through their budget years.”

The county has not increased the stormwater utility fees since 2004. The utility was created in 2003 and became operational in 2004.

“It’s almost been 20 years, and it is necessary,” Cochran-Johnson said. “I want to be very forthright in saying we’ve had the conversation as it relates to service because there’s certainly a need. Over the years, we’ve seen incremental changes in costs to us, but there’s been no cost to [the] community.”

DeKalb Public Works Director Richard Lemke said during the May 2 PWI committee meeting that prices have increased over the last 20 years, and the county has had a decreasing ability to maintain the stormwater system.

“We’ve got infrastructure that’s failing simply due to age,” Lemke said. “What we’re trying to do is accommodate the needs of the system and of the infrastructure and our ability to provide the maintenance that this county so badly needs on that infrastructure.”

The increased fee would allow the county to hire additional crews to perform stormwater work, such as pipe and pond maintenance.

“It is a critical item for us,” Lemke said.

DeKalb County is also working with Arcadis to do a rate analysis and develop a stormwater master plan that identifies priority projects.

Stormwater is a real concern for many county neighborhoods, especially those with retention ponds, Terry said.

“It’s clear that there are sections of our unincorporated county that experience some real bad flooding when it really, really rains,” Terry said. “The investment in our stormwater system is a really good investment. The fee structure…has not kept pace with the demand and the need just to do the maintenance, let alone maybe some of the more enhanced projects that is needed. I do want to support the stormwater fee increase, because it is going to alleviate a lot of issues in a lot of neighborhoods that are asking for help.”

He added that if the county is going to increase the fees, it needs to take a holistic approach to implementing the workload related to stormwater.

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